It seems that everyone is talking about a plant-based diet these days, from your favorite celeb announcing they’re vegan or vegetarian to the countless documentaries popping up on Netflix. This way of eating is everywhere! While the results a search of the internet into the myths of a plant-based diet is guaranteed to be quite overwhelming, let’s break down the top eight and ease your mind about giving plants a chance. But first, let’s be clear as to what a plant-based diet is.
Katherine D. McManus of Harvard Medical School has the following definition: “Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.” Now, on to the myths”
Myth 1: “It means becoming a vegetarian.”
Most experts agree that consuming small amounts of some meat, fish, poultry, or dairy is healthy. However, the goal should be to consume them less frequently or not at all. One way of doing this is to consider eating meat, fish, and poultry as a garnish, side dish, or treat rather than an everyday main meal. Think of only having it on some days of the week but not others, like on a “cheat” day.
Myth 2: “It’s so expensive.”
With some planning and careful shopping, eating plant-based doesn’t have to break the bank (the same way you would if you weren’t following a plant-based diet). Many plant-based foods are among the most affordable. While it may make sense to buy from the organic counter, with proper preparation, such as the careful washing of the products you buy, you should be able to confidently buy from the bulk section or find deals online for beans, lentils, grains, seeds, and nuts. Even choosing nut pieces instead of whole ones saves some cash.
In some cases, , even when bought from the same fast food outlet, but let’s look at some facts. While plant-based convenience foods can sometimes be pricey, if you stick to simple, whole food choices, you will get much higher nutritional value for your money. For example, whole grains, beans, and other legumes are a lot less expensive than meats, and they’re loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals. When bought in bulk and dry to prevent waste, they will be less expensive.
In-season fruits and vegetables at your local farmer’s market are cheaper than at the supermarket. Also, the goods are fresher and usually naturally ripened instead of being picked prematurely and ripened in a warehouse or in the back of a semi-truck on the way to the store. Equally and perhaps surprisingly, if you buy flash frozen “off-season” fruits and vegetables, even if from a country on another continent, you will get many more nutrients than “fresh” vegetables and fruits that are picked prematurely.
Something few people know is that a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield emblem on certain frozen packages designates produce of the best size, shape, and color. They will be the most tender, succulent, and flavorful.
Myth 3: “I’ll be eating only bland, boring meals forever.”
Most experts agree that eating a large variety of foods is the best way to eat healthily and get all the nutrients your body needs. “Even if you follow a diet that is 80% or 90% plants (which is a lot), there’s still plenty of variety to choose from,” says Mark Bittman.
Keep an open mind when browsing the produce aisle of your supermarket. You’ll find it loaded with a huge variety of vegetables and fruits, especially those in season. You’ll also find many varieties of beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole wheat pasta, noodles, rice, cereals, grains, spices, and herbs. A new, exciting challenge would be to explore ethnic foods and new styles of cooking.
For example, Indian cuisine does amazing things with lentils, spinach, and spices. Make it fun and try foods you’ve never eaten before. Look for new recipes. There are several great cookbooks recommended by the Hallelujah Diet®, and these are geared to people who want to experiment with plant-based diets.
Myth 4: “I won’t get enough protein, vitamins, and calcium.”
“Historically, Americans have associated protein with muscle-building and strength, and considered animals the prime source of it,” says Dr. Colin Zhu who is board-certified in family medicine. “But we can get all of our necessary nutrient intake from plants, with the exception of vitamin B-12 and vitamin D.” Concerns you might have about becoming vitamin B-12 deficient could be valid if you are entirely excluding animal products from your diet, not taking a multivitamin, or have health problems. Should you have concerns that might be linked to low B-12 levels, get a blood test and follow your doctor’s advice. As far as vitamin D is concerned, this “sunshine” vitamin can easily be replenished through controlled exposure to the sun and supplementation.
Myth 5: “Plant-Based Diets Are High in Carbs.”
All carbs are not created equal, says Dr. Colin Zhu: “Mother Nature created things whole. She didn’t just give us carbohydrates, but whole complex [or intact] carbohydrates—which is what our bodies need for energy—as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.”
Nature does not offer us “refined carbs.” These are entirely man-made and need not be included in a plant-based diet. Whole, plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, are also high in fiber. This helps slow the digestion of food, preventing a sudden spike in blood sugar followed by a crash, which typically happens after overindulging in refined carbohydrates like a candy bar or a sugary soda that make your blood sugar spike and then plummet.
Myth 6: “I can’t eat at restaurants or friends’ homes anymore.”
It’s true that eating healthily when dining out can be a challenge in a world filled with meat-centric menus and fast-food restaurants. However, it’s not impossible. Most restaurants nowadays have some meatless choices on the menu like salads, soups, veggie burgers, or whole wheat pasta. Develop a strategy for the nights you dine out, such as choosing several vegetable side dishes or soup and salad. Better still, call ahead and ask if they’re willing to make substitutes.
Keep in mind that a plant-based diet means eating fewer animal products, not excluding them completely. Dinner invitations and parties should still be welcomed without worrying about insulting your host. Make it a point to show up and eat selectively from whatever your host offers. Make it one of the nights you allow yourself, in moderation, to eat meat, fish, or poultry. “If you know your host well enough, a word in advance about your preferences can go a long way,” says Marian Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University.
Myth 7: “Eating a Plant-Based Diet Takes Too Much Time.”
It is true that eating a whole food, plant-based diet takes more time than throwing a TV dinner into your microwave, but preparing healthy whole food meals doesn’t mean you need to spend huge amounts of time in the kitchen. Here are some tips:
- Keep it simple when you’re pressed for time. You can steam vegetables like squash or broccoli in less than ten minutes, including prep time.
- Invest in a salad spinner. There’s nothing like a salad spinner to help you quickly wash and dry leafy greens. Most spinners are also suitable for use as a salad bowl, saving you on clean-up time. Spin up enough for the week, and your nightly salads will come together in minutes.
- Use your slow cooker. You can cook everything from soup to beans to enchiladas and quinoa in a slow cooker. Toss everything in the pot before you leave for the day, and dinner will be ready when you get home! Use an Instapot, and a similar meal can be ready in minutes!
- Another great way to integrate a whole food, plant-based diet seamlessly into your life is simply to plan ahead and stock your pantry or freezer full of delicious frozen veggies and fruits in advance.
- To make things even easier, you could get a fresh set of menus delivered into your inbox by a weekly menu subscription service or even subscribe to one of the numerous plant-based and vegan meal delivery services.
Myth 8: “Eating a plant-based diet means you are hungry all the time.”
With most vegetables being low in calories, should you be worried about your energy levels while following a plant-based diet? There is plenty of evidence that the opposite will be true: A visit to Hallelujah Diet® will have you convinced that you will have boundless energy! Including one or two ounces of nuts and seeds a day goes a long ways to helping you be satisfied and healthy at the same time. Organic whole grains and beans have plenty of calories, too, so you don’t have to be hungry.
Should your friends be skeptical that your plant-based way of life is for real, don’t be surprised to hear most, if not all, of these myths and many more. There is plenty of science-based evidence to refute these myths, so you are not swayed from your healthy lifestyle and can encourage them to join you!